LAS VEGAS – With a number of viable contenders gunning for a shot at UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, Kelvin Gastelum believes he and Robert Whittaker have the inside track.
“I think the winner of this fight gets the ‘Izzy’ rematch,” Gastelum told MMA Junkie at Wednesday’s media day at the UFC Apex.
Gastelum (17-6 MMA, 11-6 UFC) and Whittaker (22-5 MMA, 13-3 UFC) meet in the headlining bout of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 22 event at the UFC Apex. The night’s main card airs on ESPN following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
Gastelum stepped into the fight on a month’s notice when Paul Costa was forced to withdraw from the original pairing. Gastelum says he was ecstatic for the quick return following his February win over Ian Heinisch.
“There was no hesitation whatsoever,” Gastelum said. “‘Let’s do it,’ you know? I was just kind of continuing off the last camp, and I feel even better than what I did in February. I’m a much better version of that. I’m a much better version than I was two years ago, and i’m excited.”
Two years ago was the time Gastelum was supposed to challenge then-champ Whittaker for the UFC middleweight title. However, Whittaker withdrew just hours before the February 2019 fight after suffering an abdominal hernia that required emergency surgery.
Gastelum said the work put in for that camp paid dividends this time around, as well.
“We went back and looked at a lot of the film and looked at all the strategies we had put up then and incorporated them now and, you know, made them even better,” Gastelum said.
After their initial meeting was scrapped, Gastelum went on to face Adesanya for an interim belt in April 2019. “The Last Sylebender” proved victorious in that matchup in MMA Junkie’s 2019 “Fight of the Year” before downing Whittaker six months later to become an undisputed champion.
Now Gastelum and Whittaker are paired again, and on paper, the fight looks primed to deliver on entertainment. Both men have competed at the highest level and boast well-rounded skills exciting enough for each to have earned multiple $50,000 performance bonuses. Gastelum believes it’s certainly going to be high on action.
“Two guys that are that are entering their prime,” Gastelum said. “Where he’s highly skilled, I believe I have the skills to match it or be even better, so the fight fans are in for a nice, nice fight you know, and that’s why I’ve always liked this fight, is just because I think the styles mesh up really well, and it’s going to be a really exciting fight.”
Had Gastelum defeated Whittaker in 2019, he would have walked away as undisputed UFC champion. He doesn’t have that option this time, but Gastelum believes he can accomplish the next best thing. A win here, and he believes a rematch with Adesanya for the UFC title is his.
“I get the win, I get my hand raised, and I get the the chance to fight for the title next,” Gastelum said.
To see the full interview with Gastelum, check out the video above.